December 30, 2009, by
In a major victory for redevelopment agencies seeking to adopt and implement redevelopment plans, the California Court of Appeals ruled that redevelopment agencies have broad authority outside of local zoning laws to impose design and development controls.
The ruling came less than a week after oral arguments in a case involving a redevelopment project in the North Hollywood section of Los Angeles (NoHo). In its unpublished decision, the Court of Appeals emphasized that when a redevelopment agency adopts and implements a redevelopment plan under the Community Redevelopment Law, it is carrying out state, not local, policy.
The case stems from the September 2007 adoption by the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles (CRA/LA) of design guidelines for development in NoHo. The design guidelines adjusted the allowable densities, building sizes, floor area ratios, and other development and design criteria in the project area to concentrate higher densities near mass transit, to preserve the character of the different NoHo neighborhoods, and to provide opportunities for density bonuses in exchange for community benefits that furthered the goals of the redevelopment plan.
Local developer JSM sued the CRA/LA and the City of Los Angeles, alleging that the design guidelines were a de facto zoning ordinance because they altered the allowable zoning characteristics for the area. Based on this assertion, JSM insisted the design guidelines were not properly adopted pursuant to state zoning and planning laws. JSM also argued that the reduction in base density to allow the CRA/LA to provide density bonuses violated the mandates of state density bonus law.
The trial judge rejected all of JSM's allegations, finding the design guidelines were implementing a lawfully adopted redevelopment plan; therefore, laws governing the adoption of zoning ordinances did not apply and there was no conflict with state density bonus law.
The Court of Appeals, in an unpublished opinion affirmed the trial court in full. The Court explained that the actions of a redevelopment agency to implement a redevelopment plan carry out the mandates of state, not local, laws. Since the design guidelines simply implemented the policies of the redevelopment plan, the Court found that the CRA/LA was acting within its authorities under state redevelopment law and that local zoning law was inapplicable.
This was a key holding in the opinion because the Court expressly rejected the developer's argument that actions taken to adopt and implement state redevelopment law cannot impact the zoning in the redevelopment plan area.
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